You are here: Home / Practice Areas / Drunk Driving Articles / OWI Basics

OWI Basics

In every state, it is illegal for a driver to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by the effects of alcohol, drugs, or some combination of drugs and alcohol.  This restriction applies to all motorized vehicles including cars, trucks, motorcycles, commercial vehicles and even a boat (except a sail boat).  In most other states, the drunk driving laws are commonly referred to as DUI, which is simply an acronym for Driving Under the Influence.  In Wisconsin, drunk driving offenses are typically referred to as OWI, which stands for Operating While Intoxicated.

A driver may be arrested and charged with an OWI if the police discover sufficient evidence indicating a person is driving a motor vehicle and their ability to safely operate the vehicle is impaired by the effects of alcohol, illegal drugs (i.e. marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc.) or even prescribed medications such as painkillers and Xanax.  In addition, the driver can face criminal charges if he or she provides a breath, blood or urine specimen that reveals the presence of alcohol or drugs above established OWI standards.  In Wisconsin, the prohibited alcohol level is .08 for a first, second or third offense and .02 for a fourth or higher offense or for those drivers subject to an ignition interlock device (IID) order.

In a typical case, if the police arrest a person for OWI they will request a breath, blood or urine sample as indicated above.  If that specimen indicates a prohibited alcohol concentration or the presence of a controlled substance, the driver will receive a second charge or citation in addition to the OWI charge/citation.  This second citation is called Operating with a Prohibited Alcohol Concentration, or “PAC” for short. 

Although the OWI and PAC citations arise from the same incident, they require slightly different proof.  For an OWI charge, the government would have to prove that the defendant was: (1) driving or operating a motor vehicle, and (2) at the time of driving or operating the driver’s ability to safely operate the car was impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.

To prove a PAC violation the government would still have to prove that the defendant drove or operated a motor vehicle.  However, as to the second element the government would have to prove that at the time driving or operating, the defendant had a PAC above .08 and/or controlled substance in his or her blood. 

The upshot of both citations is that the OWI requires proof of impaired driving (e.g. swerving, unexplained lane deviations, etc.) while the PAC charge simply requires the government to prove the driver had above .08 at the time of driving without regard to whether there was any observable impaired driving.

Finally, although the government will proceed to trial on both citations, if a defendant is convicted of both charges at a trial, the OWI and PAC citations merge so the defendant could only receive one sentence.  Stated differently, if a person is convicted of both charges they only receive one punishment.

Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Rated
Million Dollar Advocates Forum
Super Lawyers logo
National Board of Trial Advocacy Logo
Top 100 Trial Lawyers